The Facts on Serious Medication Errors

Medication errors are preventable yet injure over 1 million patients in the United States every year. One-fourth of those patients experience life-threatening injuries.

These facts come from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to prevent medication errors. ISMP collaborated with the World Health Organization to promote World Patient Safety Day on September 17. The annual one-day observance serves to educate the public on serious medical errors, with a particular emphasis this year on drug administration mistakes.

Serious medical errors occur frequently. A 2016 Harvard study concluded that medical errors at the time were the third leading cause of death in America.  A 2013 study found that medical errors kill up to 400,000 Americans every year.

Yet much of the American public is not familiar with the term “medical error.”

Last year the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, a global organization that works to make healthcare safer, published the results of its multinational study on medical errors (“2021 Patient Safety Awareness Poll Results Compared to 2020 Assessment”). It found that just over half of the U.S. respondents said they knew what the term “medical error” meant.

Definition of a Medical Error

The National Academy of Medicine – previously known as the  Institute of Medicine - defines medical error as the "failure to complete a planned action as intended or the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim.” A medical error and resulting patient harm can occur from a provider’s failure to act or wrong action.

There are many types of medical error, including:

Medication errors are a common type of medical error that can be very serious, as the ISMP facts indicate. That is why they were the focus of the recently observed World Patient Safety Day.

Medication Errors in Hospitals

According to ISMP’s parent organization, ECRI, nearly 90% of medication errors are made in hospitals. Besides patient rooms, other top locations within hospitals where medication errors occur are:

  • Operating rooms
  • Emergency rooms
  • Outpatient care areas

The most common form of preventable error made with medications is classified “incorrect,” as in:

  • Medication given in an incorrect dose
  • Patient given the incorrect medication
  • Medication given to the incorrect patient
  • Medication given to patient at the incorrect time or in the incorrect rate

Patients 18 to 64 years old suffer the majority of medication errors; patients 65 to 74 years old are the next largest group.

One quarter of the U.S respondents who said they knew the term “medical error” also said they “worry every time” they receive medical care. Given the frequency and potentially deadly consequences of medical errors, including medication errors, this is understandable.

If you believe you were seriously injured or lost a family member due to a preventable error during medical care, speak with a personal injury attorney experienced in conducting medical malpractice investigations.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham.  Posted in Blog October 3, 2022.


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